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Scottish Poets in America
Whittet, Robert


While lie lives,
To know no bliss but that which virtue gives,
And when he dies, to leave a lofty name,
A light, a landmark on the cl ill's of fame.

When Robert Whittet in 1882 published his “Brighter Side of Suffering and Other Poems,” he added a work to the poetical literature of America which will perpetuate his memory for many years to come. Taken in whole or in part, it is a beautiful and finely conceived production, and it deserves special consideration at our hands, as it forms the longest poem so far issued by a Scottish American poet. Rich in metaphorical language, it is also sweet in expression, while a deeply religious sentiment, and a quiet, philosophic pathos pervades its every page. “In point of composition,” says a well-known Scottish writer, “it has all that spontaneity and unbroken connection which are true indications of a full emotional nature, and a mind cultured to a fine vocal utterance. '* * '* The most casual reader cannot fail to be struck with the range of subjects suggested in every page of Mr. Whittet’s book, his wealth of imagery, his keen moral perception, and above all, that fine spiritual eye that sees good in everything, and marks his principal work as one of a kind which we not only enjoy as a rich intellectual treat, but as one that tends to lighten the burdens of life, by painting in colors of unfading brightness the better side of human suffering.”

The poem which gives the title to the work occupies two hundred and fifty-one pages, and is divided into seven chapters. Chapter one is entitled “Suffering in Nature,” and, after describing the various beauties of nature, shows how these only attain a higher type of beauty by passing through the process of decay. Chapter second is devoted to “National Liberty, the Fruit of Suffering,” and illustrates how liberty, both civil and religious, have been secured through suffering. Chapter three refers to “Suffering in the individual life of man,” which, being universal, creates a common sympathy. Chapters four and five deal with “Suffering in individual experience;” chapter six with “The highest conception of suffering”—suffering for others—and chapter seven is a summary of the whole, and proves that the suffering and unsatisfactory nature of the present life implies a better life to come. As none arc exempt from suffering, so none are forgotten in God’s arrangements to enjoy the fruit of suffering in a future state of perfect happiness.

It will readily be seen from this brief synopsis of the work that it is one of considerable importance. It is of too lengthy a nature to allow of our making sufficient quotations from it that would convey to the reader a true idea of its meritorious character, and we will therefore content ourselves with one extract from chapter four. Here the author demonstrates how Cod’s purposes are accomplished alike in the babe and in the life of three-score-and-ten:

Hut ah! what varied ends, what varied years,
re strangely meted out as each one’s line!
The baby life, that, like a sunbeam’s glint
Is east one moment o’er the household heart,
Is if the angelic messengers who brought
Tarried one moment at the open door
Until a greeting and a parting—both
Enwrapped in one fond kiss—were given, and then
Took back the gift that hope had thought would stay!
And our fathers, bent with reverent age,
Have only had a larger handful given
Of that unmeasured time they’ve but begun—
The first gray dawn of immortality;
Their guardians but a little longer wait,
To let earth’s greetings be enjoyed awhile,
And farewell be a little oftener said:
But yet infinite wisdom, that can find
Its ends accomplished in each atom’s breath,
Whose cloud-capped mountains are of sand-grains built,
And ocean but a dew-drop multiplied,
Has furnished all lie first designed within
The babe’s short span, or three-score years and ten.

Mr. Whittel dedicates his work to “My wife, whose loving self sacrifice has met and warded many of our mutual sufferings, and to our children, whose dutiful affection lias been ;v solace in seasons of care and anxiety.” In a pleasing prefatory prelude, which another ]ioet characterizes as facing “musical as the warble of a wild bird at the dawn,” he says:

One linnet's note the more or less
Within the wildwood's minstrelsy,
Can neither raise nor aught depress
The sense of joyous revelry.

Anil yet each linnet from the spray
His swelling’ notes melodious llings,
And pipes his own sweet roundelay
Heedless of how another sings.

lie has a song ’tis his to sing
And that lie sings right earnestly,
And waiteth not for anything
To urge his heart to minstrelsy.

The skylark sings where bliss belongs,
That song an ampler lie Id be given;
Takes to the clouds his seraph songs—
Throws half to earth and half to heaven.

Anil some sweet songster, near alight
On thorny perch, amid the throng,
Gives to the passing heart delight,
And cheers it with a joyous song.

So are the songs that poets sing
Within secluded quiet retreat,
Hut single echoed notes, that bring
Their quota for a choir complete.

Each pipes his own peculiar strain,
On artful lute or simple reed,
And sings, and sings, and sings again,
To satisfy his own heart’s need.

Vet may some raptured thought out-reach
Far, far the poet’s dream above,
And some faint wavering heart beseech
To deeds of grace, and hope, and love.

To sing has given one heart employ,
And thus did end enough fulfil;
Hut if, resting, another’s joy
Is more enlarged, ’twere better still.

And so, self pleased, I give the song
That’s kept my own past clear and bright,
If that, perchance, some other tongue
May lift the lilt, and find delight.

Interwoven in “The Brighter Side of Suffering” are smaller poems of great beauty and worth. We give as a specimen of these the one entitled:

HOME LOVE.

Ohl love is like a summer day,
When sunny pleasures crowd;
When brightest shines the silver ray
Nearer the thunder cloud;
But mother’s love and father’s care,
Where’er our footsteps roam,
Still make our hearts the sunshine share
Of love, sweet love at home!
O home-love! sweet home-love!
There’s no love like home-love;
Though all else may faithless prove,
Lealty’s aye in home-love.

O’er the prairie waste the wanderer
Plods with laggard step alone;
On the billow toss’d, the mariner
Treads his watch, even starlight gone;
And from whence, to such ones weary,
Can a sweeter comfort come,
Than to know that hearts sit dreary,
For their sakes, far, far, at home?
O home-love! sweet home-love!
There's no love like home-love;
Wander where our footsteps may,
We cherish still our home-love.

The bustling world to some is joy,
Or dreams of golden gain—
What loved ones gone would deem a toy,
Perhaps esteem as pain!
When to the mind, ’mid care and strife,
No resting-place can come,
The balm for every ill of life
Is surest found at home.
O home-love! sweet home-love!
There’s no love like home-love;
The sweetest rest for aching breast
Is the couch of home-love.

As where the purest light is given
The brighter are the flowers,
So when the life is likest heaven
The purest joy is ours;
And thoughts of highest bliss are bound
By heaven’s unclouded dome,
And most of heaven on earth is found
Around the hearth at home.
O home-love! sweet home-love!
There’s no love like home-love;
The purest—best—the sweetest zest,
Is surely found in home-love.

But ah! beside the love of heaven,
Earth’s best we dare not name,
For there the lovers’ hearts, unriven,
Are changeless and the same;
But still earth’s dearest, tenderest ties
Nearest to heaven’s standard come,
Where’er the barb of grief and sighs
Are solaced best—at home!
0 home-love! sweet home-love!
The purest love is home-love;
Though all else may faithless prove
Faithful aye is home-love.

Passing from “The Brighter Side of Suffering” we find that the rest of the volume (one hundred and thirty-three pages) comprises a collection of poems by the author on various subjects. Among them?

‘Foibles,” “The Kirk and State,” “A Union Question,” “Thought,” “After the Funeral,” “The Ingle Side,” “The Daisies,” and numerous others, are all readable and talented compositions. There are also a few sonnets displaying considerable merit. Take the following one for instance:

MY BOOKS.

I have had friends whose friendship died away.
And some, diseased by selfishness, a day
Was all their little life of love; some wane
Or wax as circumstances move; the main
Of all are fickle as the cloud-swept skies,
Or mists that o'er the mountain-tops arise;
But 1 have friends within my own home bower
Whose love no season withers: yet, no flower
Can match their sweetness; their’s is far above
The wayward constancy of human love:
There are my teachers unto truth sublime,
And give for patterns hero-men of time;
Right noble friends are they—my books—whose bloom
Sheds joy o’er life from manhood to the tomb.

In addition to his English poems, Mr. Whittet has wisely included in his volume a number of his pieces that are written in the Doric. They are all of a graceful and tender character. Referring to them in his preface he says : “To his friends on the American side of the Atlantic the writer owes an apology for having inserted so many pieces written in the Scottish dialect. He trusts they may deem it a sufficient excuse that, though resident among them a good many years, and the recipient of many kindnesses, yet the recollections of the old home and the friends that are very dear, and the idiom of his boyhood still remains the most expressive, and he loves it and everything Scottish with all the stubborn tenacity of his countrymen. "He has, however, toned down much of the peculiar orthography, that they may be the more easily intelligible to the American reader.” We quote as a specimen of these Scottish musings:

THE FROZEN BURN.

O whare is the wee brook that danced through the valley,
Wha’s murmur at gloamin’ sae sweet was to me?
Or whare are the gowans that decked a’ the alley,
And gae us, when bairnies, in summer sic glee?

O cauld cam’ the rude blast that blew frae the wild hills,
And keen bit the hoar frost and fierce drave the snaw,
And they plucked a’ the sweet flowers that busket the wee rills,
And sealed up the burnie’s wee wavelets and a’.

But spring soon will come wi’ its buds and its blossoms;
The waving young leaflets will dead ilka tree,
The birdies’ sweet love note will Ihrill frae their bosoms,
And this snaw-covered desert an Eden will be.

The wee flowers will peep up their heads by the burnie,
And its waters will dance in the sunbeams again,
Ilk thing that has life in’t will flourish and charm ye,
When the life now entombed shall have burst its ice chain.

Sae man, like the burnie when summer is glowing,
Glides on in his rapture, free, lightsome and gay;
But life has its winter, and toward us ’tis flowing,
And soon will its rude breath freeze us in the clay.

But there is a summer the soul kens is cornin’,
When life to those temples anew will be given;
Then fret nae, but cheer ye, and comfort your gloamin’—
The grave has but planted the flowerets for heaven.

The volume concludes with a series of poems, entitled “Sabbath Day Communings.” These are the outpourings of a sincerely Christian spirit, and they form as fine a collection of short religious pieces as we have ever read. The concluding one is as follows:

HOME SHOULD BE BEAUTIFUL.

God has reserved for us a home—
His heaven—when earthly things are done,
Its golden streets, its rainbow dome,
He keeps secure till life has run;
And while time’s gliding moments roll
Ceaseless to the glorious goal,
He girds us daily with his love;
He’s made our earth a joyous bower,
Full plenishfed with fruit and flower,
And over all revealed—(that we
May strive to copy faithfully)—
The pattern of His home above!
Then be it ours, while life is given,
To make earth’s home like that of heaven!

Mr. Whittet is a native of Perth, where he was born in 1829. On completing his education he was sent to learn the printing trade, and after working for some years in Aberdeen and Edinburgh returned to Perth, where he set up in business for himself. Though in this reasonably successful, yet the strain of excessive competition was always a jarring element to his sensibilities, and induced a desire for relief? which developed into a determination to emigrate and seek a quieter life in rural occupation in this country. In 1869 he purchased a plantation of some four hundred acres in Virginia, close by the old city of Williamsburg, and in scenes made historic by the struggles of the first settlers on this great continent; but the venture proved—as one less possessed of the sentiment of an ideal life might have expected—a disaster, and he regretfully retreated to his old occupation, in the city of Richmond, where he still labors, mostly in printing and publishing, under contract, the papers and literature for the Sunday-schools of the Presbyterian Church South. This business has since become more largely developed, and Mr. Whittet is now well known throughout the South as the senior partner in the publishing firm of Messrst Whittet & Shepperson. He is a warm-hearted Scotsman, and he has won his way to the front by his energy, perseverance and sturdy Scottish independence. He has been blessed with poetical gifts of the highest order, and he holds an unquestionable right to the title of a true poet.


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